I was never really exposed to a variety of vegetables as a child. We usually ate the traditional canned green beans, peas and carrots, and mixed vegetables. We’d have corn on the cob when it was in season, potatoes and carrots with a roast, and a bagged salad from time to time. I just don’t really remember having a wide offering of vegetables on the dinner table.
As an example, I don't remember ever really having sweet potatoes. I believe my first encounter with sweet potatoes was Thanksgiving 1988 when a close family friend made sweet potato casserole (you know, the one with the marshmallows on top) for our first Thanksgiving getaway to a cabin in North Carolina. They were orange and scary looking. I’m not sure if I even tried a bite.
It wasn’t until adulthood when one of my sisters mentioned having a sweet potato at a restaurant as a substitution for a regular baked potato did the thought of sweet potatoes intrigue me. I didn’t realize that substitution was a possibility, nor how it would taste, so I decided that I should go ahead and give them a try. Well golly gee, they were pretty darn tasty. Why hadn’t I ever experienced that yummy-ness before? It was settled, sweet potatoes would be a semi-regular part of my diet.
To be honest, sweet potatoes still had to be dressed up pretty heavily in order to be “tasty” in my book for a long time. Sweet potatoes and marshmallows were supposed to be paired like peas and carrots, weren’t they? Now that I am older and wiser I can tell you…no.
Hoping to break the cycle, my kids have had a considerable amount of exposure to vegetables of all shapes and colors. I do have to admit that we renamed carrot soufflé "orange soufflé" so that the kids would try it, but now that they are hooked, they have all been let in on my little secret. They each have their favorite vegetables and squirm a bit when they see certain vegetables on their plates, but each is a good sport and tries my new vegetable concoctions (wish I could say the same for Justin). They all know that if they give me constructive criticism (not, “yuck, Mom! That sucks!”), then I can adjust recipes (or chuck them if they really do suck) accordingly to meet most everyone’s needs (again, Justin can be hard to please sometimes…can you say “MEAT AND POTATOES!”).
I have started to take the kids with me to the farmer’s market each week to look at and purchase vegetables from local farmers. Two weeks ago we bought some collard greens to try as a family. To be honest, I had never had collards before (forgive me, my parents grew up in the mid-west), and was interested in trying them. I searched online for a recipe and tried it out. It was a success in my book. Everyone tried them and Justin actually loved them. The kids weren’t big fans, but as their exposure increases and they try a little each time I make collards, I’m sure that they will start to grow on them as well. I’m excited to see what the farmers will have in stock on Saturday for us to try.
I think getting up close and personal with our food is important. That is one reason why I asked the kids what they wanted to grow in our garden this year. I figure if they have a say in what we are growing, then hopefully they will be more inclined to help with the cultivation and ultimately in the consumption of the “fruits” of their labor. Just today, after making creamy potato soup with broccoli, I was asked if I was sure I had ordered broccoli and potatoes for our garden. When I answered in the affirmative, there were cheers all around the table.
My suggestions for exposing children to new vegetables is to do just that, expose the kids to new vegetables. Don’t overwhelm them, mind you, but a spoon full of squash in conjunction with another vegetable that they do like is a great way to give the new vegetable some face time. I always have our trusty standby, lettuce, on hand just in case. If my new vegetable concoction doesn’t go over well, I quickly fill in with a lettuce salad. I have one that loves salad by itself, one that likes to have a small amount of dressing on the side so that they can dip their salad, and one that doesn’t really care for salad, but when presented with a scary vegetable concoction, will douse a salad in ranch dressing and call it a day. A child who never encounters zucchini, will more than likely turn their nose up at it without trying it when they are older, but if they are exposed to it when they are young, there is a possibility that if they don’t immediately fall in love with it, that it might grow on them over time. At least with repeated exposure, the child, and ultimately the adult, will be able to say how they like (or don’t like) a certain vegetable prepared (raw, steamed, baked, grilled, etc.).
The My Pyramid website has a lot of great information about the “newer” designed food pyramid. It looks dramatically different than it did when I was a kid. If you haven’t seen it lately, you may want to pop over and give it a look-see. The site has some helpful tips as well as a My Pyramid Plan to personalize the pyramid for yourself and/or your kids to see exactly what types and how many servings of each food group should be consumed.